John Jennings Volunteer Spotlight
“We’ve got more inside of our bodies than we will ever use. We just need to keep going and develop the potential that is inside of us.” - John Jennings
John Jennings moved to Arizona in 2012 and was ready for retirement. After owning and operating the Dale Carnegie franchise in Dallas Fort Worth Texas for 8 years, Jennings wasn't sure how to spend his time. For 30 years he had built the habit of waking up early and hitting the gym but after around 2 months of following that routine in Arizona, he was starting to get bored. One morning in Spin Class, Jennings struck up a conversation with a woman who had been in Arizona for years. They talked about their careers and backgrounds for a while. After expressing his restlessness in retirement, the woman suggested that Jennings reach out to Fresh Start. Jennings looked up the organization and has been a volunteer since.
Jennings started at Fresh Start teaching a workshop called Foundation for Success, which he still teaches. He worked closely with the programs and services staff and eventually decided to incorporate his coursework into the Jump Start program.
The Jump Start program is a week-long series that prepares women with job readiness skills, boundaries, self-esteem, and goal setting. Coursework covers assertive communication, resume writing and critiques, how to read a job description, and useful interviewing techniques. It gives Fresh Start clients an immersive experience that helps them get a boost personally and professionally. Jennings teaches sections of the series each month.
While teaching in Jump Start, Jennings focuses on 3 things: “We work on overcoming fear, rebuilding or building self-confidence, and developing human relationship skills.” The messages that Jennings gives to his clients are universal and can be applied to all of us.
"Your self-confidence changes all the time. We are always trying to overcome the fear that holds us back. If we let fear take control, if we can't overcome that fear and the fear controls us then we don't become all that we can be. We sit on the sidelines and life passes us by. If your self-confidence isn't big enough or strong enough to overcome that fear, we don't reach our potential."
So how do you build self-confidence? What tools does Jennings suggest for taking control back from your fears and seizing your destiny? “Every time we learn a new skill, our self-confidence gets bigger and we feel better about ourselves. So we go through some skill building, we just build a few common skills and one of the skills we work on is communication skills,” explains Jennings.
Jennings workshops are interactive. When he is in front of the classroom, you are not there to observe and listen, you are there to do. “I always tell my students: we remember 20% of things we hear, 30% of the things we see, and we remember 90% of the things we do. So we get people up on their feet, in front of the classroom and have people do things that they wouldn’t normally do. Most people have a fear of getting in front of people so we teach them communication skills.”
In a world where face-to-face interactions are becoming less frequent and most people talk via text message or social media, developing communication skills is crucial. The women in class practice their communication skills with various exercises that tie into human relation skills and life skills.
For Jennings, the experience of working one-on-one with Fresh Start clients is a process. He can see the women slowly develop and change their beliefs as the week goes on. “The most important part is to see the women start to realize that they can overcome those fears by getting up and doing things. It is small and gradual. But you can almost see it in their eyes, as they start to understand it and say, “Yes, I can do that!”
Jennings is passionate about his work with Fresh Start and about helping women in the community. He has even begun teaching courses at the Women’s Prison and continues to share Fresh Start programs and services with others.
When speaking about his students and the hope he has for their journey, Jennings is optimistic about the transformation he sees in the classroom. “If I could give them one gift of all the gifts in the world, it would be self-confidence and that’s the underlying theme of this whole thing. Self-confidence allows us to do anything we want to do.”
Fresh Start is lucky to have such wonderful volunteers in every level of our organization. If you are interested in becoming a Fresh Start volunteer, you can view open opportunities and apply online. We are always looking for individuals, organizations, and corporate groups to volunteer at the Resource Center.